Sterling // 1998 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Chief Justice Sean McGinnis (Retired) // August 12th, 1999
A work of deadly fiction.
Another outstanding special edition from the people at Sterling, A Murder of Crows delivers where so many from the big studios lack -- quality extras.
In addition to starring in A Murder of Crows, Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Jerry Maguire, As Good As It Gets) acted as the producer of the film. Some pretty serious talent surrounds him, but it isn't really enough to save this film from mediocrity.
Written and directed by Rowdy Herrington, A Murder of Crows tells the story of Russell Lawson (Gooding, Jr.), an attorney who finds his scruples in the midst of defending one of the most powerful men of a powerful New Orleans family in a murder trial. Knowing it will cost his job, Lawson sabotages the trial and his client as the film begins.
Banned from the practice of law (we attorneys should be so lucky), Lawson finds himself at his dead father's Key West home acting as a fishing guide when an elderly stranger visits him. The stranger shows Lawson a novel he has written and asks the former attorney's opinion. When Lawson comes to deliver the novel back to his newfound friend, he discovers the elder gent has passed away of an apparent heart attack. Feeling down on his luck, Lawson abandons his scruples and submits the novel to a few publishing houses as his own work, and the book takes off. Reveling in his newfound stardom, Lawson begins worrying about his ability to deliver a follow-up story, and then all hell breaks loose.
It turns out the book he misappropriated is about the mysterious murder of five attorneys who all got guilty men off the hook -- at the expense of society. The kicker is that the book is all true, and contains bits of information about each victim that was never released to the public. A copy of the book is sent to the police detective that worked the first case right in New Orleans and Lawson's life is turned upside down.
He finds himself a suspect in all five murders and has destroyed all the evidence that might acquit him of the charges. The rest of the film explores who sent the book to the detective and why he would want to set up Lawson.
This disc is the latest installment in Sterling's Millennium Series. You will recall from my earlier review of Legionnaire that I was waiting for the next chapter in this continuing series. This is it. And I was not disappointed. Frankly, Fox and Paramount could learn a few things from the production personnel over at Sterling. This disc includes not one but two audio commentary tracks, the first by director Rowdy Herrington and producer Derek Broes, and the second by actors Tom Berenger and Mark Pelligrino. It also includes bios and filmographies of the talent, a behind the scenes featurette, a photo gallery, and theatrical trailers for A Murder of Crows, Legionnaire, Progeny, Space Truckers and The Confession all members of the Millennium Series.
Now, the commentary tracks are your typical studio fare, as opposed to the much better Criterion Collection type, but at least they are there. Frankly, I think we should all go out and buy this disc, or others like it from Sterling. At least they are making an effort. We need to do something to try to wake up Paramount before they start to issue their A-list titles. It would be very nice to have them put some effort into a special edition or two. At least Fox has done Alien and it's offspring right. Paramount hasn't done one decent special edition I can think of. Hey Paramount -- come take a look at this disc. It's everything you should be doing.
Frankly the writing here is the weak link in the chain. The premise of this film had a LOT of potential. Unfortunately it was never realized. Cuba Gooding, Jr. should have spent more money hiring a high quality writer to rework the script and less on all the mid-range talent that surrounds him in this production. The cast of players includes Tom Berenger (Platoon, The Big Chill), Eric Stoltz (Pulp Fiction, Some Kind of Wonderful) and Marianne Jean Baptiste (Secrets and Lies, The 24 Hour Woman) all of whom do fine jobs with the tripe they are given to read. But, a collection of no-names working from a better script would have been just as good if not better.
The video is quite a bit better than the writing, but still not up to snuff unfortunately. The colors in this letterbox presentation are good, but the picture suffers from quite a bit of grain at times, particularly during scenes that are filmed in low-key light at night. There is no real digitization or picture break-up, but the video still looks soft. Some edges are fuzzy, again especially at night. These problems are easily attributable to the initial production values of the film and the fact that the video is not anamorphically enhanced. This is not a film produced for general release. In fact, I believe it was made for Showtime, if I am not mistaken. Obviously, this film was produced on a relative shoestring as compared to the usual Hollywood blockbuster. So, I would hardly expect this to be a top-rated video presentation. Then again, I don't remember Blade costing an arm and a leg either.
The audio is much better than the video, but again suffers from some budget constraints. The disc lacks a 5.1 track, as did the original film. This is not a problem, but again is not really up to today's standards where nearly everything is recorded in the best way affordable. Clearly this was a cost saving measure imposed on the production unit and not an "artistic" decision.
Again, I believe this film is worth owning, if only to try to teach the big boys like Disney, paramount and Fox a lesson. Yes, we all want the best titles, but we would like to see some quality extras on our discs more often than not. By making this disc a bestseller -- if only for a week or two, we might be able to wake them up a bit. I know I'm probably dreaming, but isn't it worth a few bucks to find out?
The film is guilty of poor writing, but decent acting. The disc is acquitted. I only wish Sterling had access to the likes of Braveheart and Miller's Crossing.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Two Audio Commentary Tracks With Director And Actors
* Behind The Scenes Footage And Interviews
* Legalese Trivia Game
* Photo Gallery
* Millennium Trailer Gallery
* DVD-ROM Features